Gators Working Through Injuries on the O-Line

Steve Addazio feels like he is in this situation every fall camp. It opens with a starting line close to set, and weeks into camp, injuries force players to miss time. However, it's not all bad. The young players have seen valuable reps and are proving their worth to the team.

"It shuffles your lineup and jumbles with your consistency," Steve Addazio said of the smaller injuries. "I always felt that in the big picture, it makes you better. It doesn't (make you better) now because of those inconsistencies. You're watching a lot of young guys take a lot of tough reps. I think it's better for you. It accelerates growth and development."

Sometimes it's not the worst thing when a player can't practice. The Florida coaches held multiple players out during the end of spring practice to let the young players see the field.

With the first game of the season just over two weeks away, the Gators are now focused on preparing their starters for the season. But it's not always a nightmare when veterans aren't healthy enough to participate.

"I don't need to see Mike Pouncey take another rep," Addazio said. "I know what he's going to do. When the lights are on, he's going to go. I know what Marcus Gilbert is going to do. It's the other guys that I'm real interested in right now. Force-feeding them in these roles keeps them on their toes."

Pouncey is currently the face of the Florida offense. It was expected that this season would be different since it was his first year not playing beside his brother, Maurkice, who was a first-round pick by the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Instead, Pouncey has become the leader of the offense. He is the player the coaches turn to during a tough day of practice to maintain focus on the offensive side of the ball.

"You're talking about a guy who has the respect of the team and coaching staff," Addazio said. "He approaches every day like it's the SEC Championship. He knows how to practice and loves football. You put that in front of a football team, and it's hard not to follow that. On those hard days, guys are looking around and he's going harder than anybody. His experience is critical. Being Mike Pouncey instead of the Pounceys has been a great learning experience that he seems to be grabbing on to."

Addazio has been forced to move offensive linemen to many different positions because of smaller injuries, most notably at the left tackle position. Matt Patchan fractured his wrist and Xavier Nixon is struggling with injuries to his leg. Addazio expects them to be fine shortly.

"They're out there now and working," Addazio said. "They're getting back strong and healthy. All is good."

While the tackles haven't been fully participating, younger players had to slide all over the line. Nick Alajajian has lined up at all positions, and he hasn't disappointed the coaches at any of them.

He struggled with snapping the football during the spring, but he has opened eyes at tackle in fall camp.

"I'm really impressed with his toughness," Addazio said. "He works hard and just keeps coming back. We threw him at center and developed him to be a good center. Then all of a sudden, I kicked him to tackle. You kick him here, you kick him there and you grind on him that. That guy is a tough guy. I'm impressed with his work ethic. He has really grown as a player."

The battle at right guard continues without any answers. James Wilson and Maurice Hurt seem to be the two players in the lead with Jon Halapio surging. Wilson and Hurt have been in the program for a long time, and their veteran presence on the line is expected to give them an advantage.

"Both of those guys have been good in camp," Addazio said. "I'm impressed with the two of them. I feel like I've got about eight guys now that are getting ready to play. That's encouraging. We've still got two weeks left though. I feel good about the fact that we've got a little depth."

Chaz Green and Ian Silberman give the Gators two highly recruited freshmen that won't be needed this fall. They could see the field in mop-up duty, but the depth on the offensive line allows them to get stronger and more accustomed to the system before being counted on to produce.

"They will be really good football players," Addazio said. "They've got great work ethic and keep their mouths shut. They aren't ego guys. In my room, that's the offensive line unit. They love (the two freshmen) because they're about the right stuff. They're going to be good players, as billed."

Addazio can't focus only on the offensive line during practice. Serving as the offensive coordinator, he also must keep an eye on the other positions to see how they are doing.

Deonte Thompson has been the talk of the wide receiver position, but it isn't all because of the plays he makes on the field.

"I'm really fired up about Deonte Thompson," Addazio said. "He's showing tremendous leadership and making plays. I like what he's about out there. He's a major factor in developing great chemistry in that room."
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